The White House is offering yet another wrinkle in its attempt to support President Trump’s allegation — unfounded, so far — that his campaign headquarters in Manhattan was wiretapped by the Obama administration. The latest comes from Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.
She says the “surveillance” may be broader than even Trump suggested.
In a wide-ranging interview Sunday at her home in Alpine, where she lives with her husband — a possible nominee for U.S. solicitor general — and their four children, Conway, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign before taking the job as one of the president's closest advisers, suggested that the alleged monitoring of activities at Trump’s campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan may have involved far more than wiretapping.
“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said as the Trump presidency marked its 50th day in office during the weekend. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.”
Conway went on to say that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding: “We know this is a fact of modern life.”
Conway did not offer any evidence to back up her claim. But her remarks are significant — and potentially explosive — because they come amid a request by the House Intelligence Committee for the White House to turn over any evidence by Monday that the phones at Trump Tower were tapped as part of what the president claims to be a secret plot by the Obama administration to monitor his campaign.
The White House has not said whether it will provide any corroborative support to back up the president’s claim of the alleged wiretapping. The allegation came to light nine days ago when Trump wrote in an early-morning Twitter message that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
Trump did not offer any evidence in his original Twitter message. And while criticism mounted in the following days that Trump may have overreached, neither he nor the White House provided any means to verify the claim. Indeed, the wiretapping claims have dominated much of the discourse in Washington, often overshadowing the president's attempt to promote changes in the Affordable Care Act and institute new immigration regulations.
Now comes Conway’s insinuation of a much broader surveillance plan against Trump. Her suggestion, while further stirring up the debate, appears to indicate that the White House does not plan to back down from Trump’s original Twitter claim in spite of strong assertions that it is not true from the U.S. intelligence community as well as from former president Barack Obama himself and members of his inner circle.
In the interview, Conway reiterated the request by the White House that the allegations of wiretapping — and what she hinted might be other forms of surveillance — should be wrapped into a Congressional investigation into whether Russian intelligence operatives tried to influence the outcome of last November’s election.“What the president has asked is for the investigation into surveillance to be included into the ongoing intelligence investigations in the House and Senate,” she said.
The strategy of dueling inquiries — along with Conway’s suggestion of even broader surveillance by the Obama administration besides wiretapping — certainly complicates any investigation that involves Russia. But it may also confuse the issue.
While Conway seemed to call for a closer look into the so-far unfounded allegations of wiretapping by so-far unnamed members of the Obama administration, she also was dismissive of the extent and impact of the alleged Russian scheme. The Russian attempt to hack into computers within the Republican and Democratic campaign organizations is largely not disputed within the U.S. intelligence community. What is disputed is whether the Russian scheme had any impact on the outcome of the election.
Conway’s remarks, however, may complicate the matter in other unforeseen ways.
She claimed in the interview that Democrats who called for a deeper investigation of the alleged Russian links – while also ignoring Trump’s claim of wiretapping by Obama — were really trying to undermine the Trump presidency. “The investigation is about a bunch of people who can’t believe that Hillary Clinton lost the election,” Conway said, her voice rising when asked about the possibility that Russian operatives may have helped to defeat Clinton and insure that Trump won.
“I was the campaign manager,” Conway added. “I was there every day and every night. I talked to people in Macomb County, Michigan, not in Moscow.”
She said that “this whole conspiracy” is a “waste of people’s oxygen, and air and resources and time when we could be helping those who are hungry, who need health care, who are in poverty, who need tax relief, entrepreneurs who want to get off the ground.”
In the interview, Conway addressed a variety of topics, including Trump’s efforts to assemble a coalition of support for his plan to revamp the Affordable Care Act, and her belief that Gov. Chris Christie may eventually join the Trump administration in some capacity, perhaps not for several more years, however. Conway even noted that Christie had come to her home recently to discuss his effort to improve services for drug addicts.
“The president likes Governor Christie a lot,” Conway said. “They talk all the time.”
But at various points, she continued to return to a seeming favorite topic — that Democratic critics of Trump are incapable of accepting the fact that he was able to defeat Hillary Clinton.
“They haven’t gotten over it,” Conway said, noting that she found many Democrats still working through “the stages of grief,” which range from anger to disbelief and, finally, acceptance of a loss.
“I know they’re not in acceptance,” Conway said. “That’s too bad for the country. The campaign is over. Now it’s time to govern.”
It’s an understandable — even laudable — suggestion that the opposing sides in Washington should stop fighting. But as Conway concedes, governing and the more difficult task of finding common ground among political adversaries is difficult amid allegations of a complicated plot involving Russia.
“It’s a big agenda,” Conway said of Trump’s first 50 days in the White House. “It’s very ambitious. And it’s very Trumpian.”
But that agenda still seems to keeps tripping over the election itself — and the questions about it.
Follow Mike Kelly, columnist for The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record, on Twitter: @MikeKellyColumn